Sub-Saharan Africa faces a series of challenges in granting food, water and energy security. An emerging technology that will ease this problem, while improving farmers livelihoods, is Agrivoltaics.
Agrivoltaic energy is based on using land to produce solar energy and grow agricultural produces simultaneously. The idea is simple: placing solar panels above the cropland to facilitate farming activities underneath and supply or energy for industrial and home use.
Agrivoltaic systems offer the provision of clean energy and sustainable agricultural practices. These systems, when well designed and adapted to the unique conditions of Sub-Saharan Africa, have the potential to bridge the gap in food and energy security, significantly enhance crop yields, and improve the livelihoods of local farmers. With the adoption of Agrivoltaic technologies, African farmers can transform their agricultural landscapes and free time for other labor intensive on-farm activities.
A major benefit of agrivoltaics is the provision of on-farm access to electricity for off-grid farmers and agricultural communities. This electrification will significantly impact agriculture and households in Africa as it enables the use of irrigation systems to irrigate crops and pastures under limited ran-fed conditions, reduces harvest losses, and facilitates various post-harvest treatments such as drying, cooling. refrigeration, pasteurization and storage.
Access to electricity empowers farmers to transition to higher-value commercial crop production and use powered post-harvest processing equipment, thereby adding value to their products.
Agrivoltaics offers the following benefits:
· Increased Crop Yields – Elevated photovoltaic modules offer physical protection to crops, small livestock and soil. Some shading effect protects crops from direct sunlight and increase agricultural production crop and improved produce. The microclimate created beneath the solar panels (lower temperatures, less direct sunlight and protection against hail and severe weather conditions) makes it possible to cultivate a variety of crops even under severe arid environments.
· Water Management and Efficiency – Agrivoltaics is more water use efficient, through solar-powered pressured irrigation systems and reduced evapotranspiration. The partial shading provided by solar panels conserves soil moisture content, allowing crops to be more resilient to water scarcity and increasing water-use efficiency in the region.
· Mitigation of Climate Change – Agrivoltaics contributes to the mitigation of global climate change by producing cleaner energy and promoting smart agroforestry. In areas where forestation has a scientifically proven net beneficial impact, trees can be planted alongside solar systems, sequestering carbon and contributing to overall environmental sustainability.
· Biodiversity Conservation – Agrivoltaics has the potential to ensure biodiversity conservation by incorporating natural resource management and conservation requirements into its planning and implementation process. This holistic approach to agriculture and energy generation considers the preservation of local ecosystems and the enhancement of biodiversity.
Domestic use – Agrivoltaics and electricity stored in batteries allow children to study in the evening and store food and medical equipment and medication in fridges at clinics.
Placement of Agrivoltaics requires sensitivity to land tenure and uses: These systems, as any improved agricultural technology introduced in rural areas, require well-planned dialogue, advocacy and management with communities local authorities, provincial and at national government levels. Investment is high and placement for multi years. Particularly of importance is “who owns the lands or farm, Agrivoltaics systems, who looks after the panels for maintenance and replacement and manages electricity distribution and income generation”. Therefore, governance is important to guarantee sustainability and lasting uses of Agrivoltaics systems in rural areas.
The management team of the Israeli Interest and Awareness in Africa Association (I2A3) is already actively involved in the EU-funded REGACE Project , which is developing an innovative agrivoltaics technology to sustainably increase greenhouse yields and improve electricity production. We strongly believe that agrivoltaics has immense potential to transform sub-Saharan farming and are currently looking for partners who share this vision.
The writer is the Co-Founder of the Israeli Interest and Awareness in Africa Association (I2A3) and a board member of the Israel-Africa Chamber of Commerce.